Cover Image: Island Queen

Island Queen

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Member Reviews

ISLAND QUEEN is the exquisitely written story of Dorothy "Dolly" Kirwan Thomas, an enslaved girl from the Caribbean island of Monserrat who goes on to buy her freedom and become one of the wealthiest landowners in the West Indies. The craziest part - even more unbelievable than her affair with the future King of England - is that the story is true!

Dolly is the ultimate survivor, escaping her life as a slave on her Irish father's plantation and abuse by her half-brother that leaves her with two children to become an entrepreneur who travels the world and has men falling at her feet. Riley vividly describes Dolly's extraordinary life - her 10 children (all of whom she made sure were free along with other family members), her multiple lovers, the wealth she acquired and how she managed it, and the struggles she endured to show that no matter her gender or color, she deserved everything she'd earned. It's impossible not to be blown away by her strength, perseverance and accomplishments. My one quibble was that there's a dual timeline (one in 1824 when Dolly is already successful and in London and another that starts in 1761 when she's five and we get a chronological telling of her story) that felt unnecessary and was a bit confusing at first. But stick with it and all 592 pages of this amazing story of a woman who defied all odds and wrote her own rules during a time when women and people of color were horribly oppressed. This Island Queen deserves to be a household name.

4.5 stars

Thanks to William Morris Custom House and NetGalley for a copy to review.
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Based on the true life story of Dorothy ¨Doll¨ Kirwan Thomas, Island Queen is a compelling, gripping, and emotional novel. Told through her point of view, Doll narrates a tale that is both stunning in its cruelty and oppression, as well as the fortitude and determination she has in protecting and ensuring her family’s safety and freedom. It is a sweeping tale that shows Doll’s journey to freedom and economic success as well as the history of the Caribbean and the effects of colonialism and racism. 
I loved reading the story of Dorothy and was immediately drawn to her no-nonsense attitude and unwillingness to fail. Everything that Doll did, she did with her whole heart and a sense of true purpose. She dreamed big as a child and never gave up on that hope, no matter the cruelty and unfairness that was forced upon her. Doll’s story is one that shows how powerful hope and determination can be, but also more importantly, how hard people of color in history have had to work to be seen merely as people.  Throughout the story, Doll asks her father repeatedly why he won’t buy the freedom of her mother and siblings and he never has a good point. To grow up knowing you are truly owned by your parent?  To live through the repeated sexual, physical, and emotional abuse by family members and to have no recourse? I can’t even begin to imagine. Doll was able to live through all that trauma to become one of the Caribbean’s wealthiest women of her time and create an empire. Her story is just as fascinating as it is frustrating and enraging that this treatment was ever inflicted on anyone. 
I would highly recommend this to historical fiction lovers, as well as those wanting to read more books based on women in history.
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. All mistakes and opinions are my own.
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Don’t lose you. Do all for your children, but birth your dreams too.“

Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was one of the mulatto offspring of her plantation owner and her enslaved Mother. Unlike her siblings, at first glance she didn’t look mulatto as her skin-tone was chocolate. One thing that stood out to me about Dorothy is that even as a child, she had pride about her skintone even though it was typically seen as a hindrance for her despite her ability to figure numbers, speak eloquently, and her unorthodox beauty. She also dared to dream.

This book takes you on the journey with her from being an enslaved child to becoming a free woman of color and going on to become one of the wealthiest women in the West Indies. She also used her wealth and status to free other members of her family and teach them the kind of business acumen that helped her accumulate her wealth.

I thought I would absolutely love this novel. I loved being introduced to this amazing Historical figure but the storyline itself at times seemed to drag on. This book is almost 600 pages long and it wasn’t the kind of storyline for me that made me forget how long it was. It felt long and drawn out. I love that the author wove her love life into the storyline because it humanized her and also let us see how wise she was to be able to make every romance beneficial to her in the long run, but sometimes her love life overshadowed her accomplishments. I may be in the minority with this opinion, but overall I can’t say this was one of the most enjoyable reads of 2021 for me. What I did takeaway from this novel was the power of never losing sight of your dreams and your desire to build a legacy outside of relationships, children, marriages, etc.
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“Island Queen” is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan. She was born into enslavement and goes on to buy her freedom. I liked the book and there’s a lot to sit and reflect on. However, it reads more like a non-fiction and not one you can read in just one sitting. This book is really long and seems to focus too much on her sexual experiences. Overall, I would recommend it.

Thank you NetGalley and William Morrow for an ARC in exchange of my honest review.
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“Island Queen” is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan. Her journey begins as a slave, and she rose to become one of the wealthiest and influential entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. “Island Queen” is quite a long book filled with Vanessa Riley’s interpretations of birth certificates, financial documentations, and other anecdotes from various people in Dorothy’s life. The premise is entirely captivating; unfortunately, it fell flat for me. 

First of all, considering the importance of Dorothy’s business ventures, I felt that there was far too much focus on her sexual experiences. Some are violent, and some are for pleasure, but it became far too overwhelming. Her identity became more closely tied to the men she had sex with, and it felt so counterintuitive to the proper representation of the powerhouse of a woman. 

I would have loved to know more about her relationships with the slave owners who learned to respect her despite her skin color. I feel like I missed a massive chunk about how she built her business and what kind of challenges she faced along the way. I also felt like I missed some of her experiences in society. We saw some of the prejudices that she faced, but it felt so small compared to her relationships with the various men in her life. 

Finally, I thought the book was well-written, but often it read as non-fiction. I felt that the artistic liberties were misplaced because they were sections that were not particularly interesting. I wanted to love this book a lot more because everyone should hear the story of Dorothy Kirwan, but I feel like it didn’t highlight her significant triumphs throughout her life. 

Thank you, William Morrow and Custom House, Vaness Riley, and NetGalley for the ARC.
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I was mesmerized by this book. From enslavement in the Caribbean to the court of William, Duke of Clarence, later William IV, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was an entrepreneur, a force, a complicated and complex woman whose story has not been told. Now we have this engrossing historical fiction from Vanessa Riley and it's amazing. I wanted to savor this story. Riley uses a timeline of to recreate Dorothy Kirwan Thomas' story. This allows us to keep track of where the story is both in time and in place and I think it works really well. Occasionally the timeline jumps to Kensington in the 1820s, which helps us see how earlier steps were moving towards that ultimate point. 

Recreated from extensive historical research of records but no remaining personal writings, this is a deeply personal story. Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was born into enslavement and worked to earn money to buy her own freedom, as well as that of her family members throughout her life. She had many children, from many men, under many circumstances. She persevered against everything you would expect an enslaved and then free Black woman would face in the 18th and 19th centuries. She was not without her faults and was not perfect. But she was human and Riley brings her and the Caribbean to life. The world building is excellent and thorough, including slave owners, military and government officials, other free Blacks, her children and grandchildren - all of it is here, 

I did not find this to be a quick read but I was never bored or thought it dragged. Rather I just needed to sit with what was happening, the challenges and the choices. The level of detail is high but the story is not bogged down in unnecessary information. The narrative continues to flow and build, from event to event, place to place.

Riley includes an extensive author's note to put her storytelling and aspects of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas' story into perspective and explain her approach and choices. An extraordinary bibliography is included for those who want to research more. 

You'll note that I continue to use her full name, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. It is as she herself desired. Know her full name. 

I highly recommend this one.

Content notes: rape, slavery, discussion and descriptions of slave markets and ships, racism, classism, post-partum depression, death of children and family members.
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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the real life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, Dolly as she was called was born a slave, who was able to purchase her freedom plus her mothers and sisters also. She became a successful business owner and one of the wealthiest woman in her area. The book spans around sixty years of her life and I found it a very interesting read. I would recommend this for anyone who likes historical novels . Thanks you Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley is a sweeping piece of historical fiction about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas who is the daughter of an Irish planter and slave mother on Montserrat in the Caribbean. We first meet “Dolly” when she is five years old in 1761 and our story ends in 1824 when Dorothy is a successful woman with ten children and grandchildren. I must admit I put the book down for awhile after reading about 150 pages as I could not remember who was who and what happened where. After a week, I picked up my copy again and read the author notes at the back of the book first. I recommend doing this. I went back to the book and started making charts for myself. This made all the difference. As a member of a book club, I strongly suggest that whoever makes a discussion guide also makes a character chart showing connections. 

Dorothy is exposed to many difficult obstacles from rape by a step-brother, a deceitful Cosevelt Cells, and all the difficulties of being a slave. She is determined to buy her freedom as well as the freedom of her mother, two daughters and a sister. She finally has enough money for the manumission of her family. I learned so much about this time period in the Caribbean and the resilience of this remarkable woman who did not give up and became a wealthy woman. This book would make a good period piece for television. My thanks to William Morrow and NetGalley for an ARC of this book. The opinions in this review are my own.
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This book was super dense and maybe a tad bit long. I think it might have been intentional to showcase the author's research. Otherwise enjoyable.
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I received an ARC of Island Queen in exchange for an honest review.

This is an amazing story based on the real life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas - a woman I was completely unaware of prior to beginning this novel.  Dorothy was born into slavery and goes to great lengths to buy her freedom and ensure the freedom of her children and family.  As the novel explores Dorothy's life, you come to realize that she is a shrewd business woman and it is so refreshing to see a strong female character who becomes successful despite having so many challenges thrown at her.  At the core of Dorothy is the value she places on her family and she does whatever it takes to ensure they are afforded opportunities she never had and long term success. 
The novel explores approximately 63 years of Dorothy's life from 1761 to 1824 and covers her relationships and the men in her life. her business dealings, her struggles with the concept of slavery and how necessary it became to her own success and the injustices she faced as a woman and in particular, a woman of color.  The novel delves into some fairly intense topics including rape, incest, racism, slavery, etc. 
Kudos to Vanessa Riley for sharing with us Dorothy Kirwan Thomas' story and her intriguing world.  We need more novels about these amazing females who set the stage for what is possible for woman today..  Don.t miss this one - despite its length we need to know the story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas.
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Powerful Read

Island Queen is five hundred fifty-seven pages of joy, love, pain, forgiveness, perseverance, and I made it.  Ms. Riley delved deep into our history giving us a story that each of us as women can relate to.  This Historical Fiction based on the real facts and life of Ms. Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is a road map for women in the 21st century.   

Thank you to NetGalley and Vanessa Riley for the opportunity to read and give an honest review.

#Vanessa Riley 
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Beautifully written, Vanessa Riley really takes you to into this time, this island, this lifestyle so unlike your own, and it sucks you in completely. I think this book serves many purposes such as entertaining but mainly educating.
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Thank you to NetGalley and WIlliam Morrow & Custom House for allowing me to read this ARC!

Content Warning: death, murder, violence, slavery, racism, misogyny, rape, incest.

Born in the mid-1700s, the daughter of a plantation owner and an enslaved woman, Dolly Thomas is exposed to the horrors of slavery throughout her childhood. Determined, ambitious, and full of charm, Dolly manages to pay for not only her own freedom, but the freedom of her mother and sister -- and ends up creating a life for them all that no one thinks possible for a woman of color in her time.

Reading the premise for this book was so exciting that I knew I had to request it. Not only do I love historical fiction, but I thought that it was so refreshing to see a book written by a black woman about an amazing black woman. Although Riley's writing style didn't immediately catch my attention, her weaving of the story certainly did. While much of the content in this book is extremely difficult to read, it's a necessary read, something that unveils the atrocity of slavery while also uplifting the voices of the enslaved.

Dolly is the star of this beautiful novel, and I cannot begin to even tell you how much she makes this worth reading. Riley's masterful characters, who are vividly, wonderfully captured, feel as real as if you are sitting in the room with them. It seems as if Dolly has taken you into her confidence, and is whispering into your ear with her snappish wit and her endless supply of magnetism. The tale of her life, her hardships, her wins and losses, is so captivating that at the end, I nearly found myself in tears.

I truly cannot recommend this highly enough. Riley is a prolific writer of historical fiction and romance, and although I hadn't previously heard of her, I will certainly be looking into reading more of her books in the future.
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We need more books like this! The all-powerful female lead, based on the true story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. It's about family and pushing to move forward and rebuilding her life after being enslaved. Women are powerful and no matter what they set their mind to do, you can bet that they will accomplish it. Amazing book!
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I just finished Island Queen by Vanessa Riley and am filled with so much satisfaction, so much joy for this book! Vanessa really did her homework and it shows. She has skillfully detailed and portrayed a woman of historical importance who was unto her own -- a woman who, despite or in spite of the circumstances she was born into, fought back against the control, the hate, the hurt, the repeated efforts to thwart her dreams from strangers who would see her fail simply because she was a person of color, a woman of color, and was competition for business and wealth that they didn't think she ought to have access to. Her innate need to protect her loved ones and herself, (she almost always put herself second), spurred her determination in earning money to build wealth, which equaled freedom. And freedom meant safety and security in many respects, something anyone can understand and identify with, especially women. And she did it with such class and grace. What a true lady. I found myself cheering for her throughout the book, cried when people she loved died, and smiled when she finally let her guard down at the right time and with the right people. If you love historical fiction underdog stories featuring a strong, smart, classy woman, her successes, romances, deep love, family highs and lows and all the feels, this book is definitely for you! Only thing I'll add that could be a negative depending on personal preference  is that it is a really, really long read.
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Historical fiction set in the Caribbean Islands!  I really loved that this book was based on a real person too.   Dorothy Kirwan Thomas started her life enslaved to her father but by the end of her life she was a free woman and one of the wealthiest woman in the area. The book covers a long time period of her life and follows her through her fascinating journey.  The second half of the book got a bit choppy but overall I still enjoyed this very well researched book.
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Dolly or Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was enslaved living in Montserrat. She was able to purchase her freedom for herself, her mother and sister after many years. Following that huge milestone, Dolly used her smarts and opened her own businesses, amassing a huge amount of wealth. Equally fascinating is Dolly's personal life - the men and her children. Her distinct beauty and wit captured the eyes of many men--some she welcomed and some she didn't. But this all made for a fascinating tale.
First and foremost, I commend Vanessa Riley on her research. Her dedication and diligence in this project is evident. Vanessa Riley brought Dolly to life and as I read, I was fascinated at everything this woman had to endure, while admiring her grit and strength.
Second, I love that there were women of color who made a name for themselves and triumphed despite the harsh realities of the time. Vanessa tackled each subject matter, not shying away from the ugly but definitely bringing the good.
It was a lengthy read and there was a lot covered about Dolly's life but it was told with such skill, that it kept my interest. I had never heard of Dolly before but I admired her grit. Dolly wasn't a perfect heroine but I did always understand--even if I didn't agree--with some of the things she did.
Finally, what an amazing amazing cover. Island Queen's cover art is simply gorgeous. But, please open the pages, you'll enjoy. I loved the Author's Note which highlighted the research and other fascinating information. 
Thank you #Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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If I had not done some research, I would have thought this was pure fiction, but the story is based on a real woman, Dorothy Kirwan. Born on the tiny Caribbean Island of Monserrat, she bought her freedom along with that of her sister and mother. She worked hard to gain freedom from her Irish planter father. She was a creative entrepreneur, merchant owner of a hotel and planter from Dominica and Barbados to Guiana on the South American continent. She had many white men seeking her love including a prince of Britain. I am so glad this amazing, strong woman is now immortalized in historical fiction.
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3.5 stars

Thank you very much to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book was an impressive work overall - it's clear how much research the author put into this book. However, I personally found it a bit hard to get into and enjoy. I loved all of the historical information given and I was really interested to learn about the main character's life. Since this book is based on a real person, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, I was even more interested. However, at the second half of the book, I lost interest. I learned after reading this that the author is primarily a romance author, which makes sense, because a lot of focus was given on the main character's various love interests. I wish more time had been spent on her businesses and family instead of romances. Also, I think the pacing is a bit of an issue - the book was too long and it felt too slow at times, while also have some awkward jumps because of the short chapters.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas's life.
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Thank you to NetGalley and William Morrow for the ARC of Island Queen.

Pros: I learned a lot from reading this book and am extremely interested in learning more. This was an area of historical fiction that does not get explored nearly enough and it definitely hooked me.

Cons: I found the structure of this book to be very hard to engage with. Every chapter is short and captures a specific time and place in the main character's life and then moves on to the next vignette often without explaining what happened in the intervening time jump. Overall, I also thought this book was way too long, especially not to have a cohesive plot structure.
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